resistance members during the German occupation in the Second World War. Visitors can also take a boat trip to see the former leper colony at Spinalonga, off Crete’s north coast.
The island has a chequered history and was actually home to one of the oldest civilisations in Europe - The Minoans. Huge palaces were built, such as Knossos Palace, Phaestos and Zakros, which can still be seen and explored today. In later years, the Roman occupation came, followed by the Byzantine era, some of which is still visible in the form of the mosaic floors of the basilicas built during the period. The island later became under Ottoman rule until 1897 when it achieved independence. However, it was united with the independent Greek state in 1913. Travelling around Crete offers an opportunity to seek out different periods of history. The old towns of Rethymno and Chania have remained intact since the Renaissance with their squares, fountains and churches. The famous painter El Greco started his carrier in this period too. Today Crete gets most of its income from agriculture, cattle breeding and tourism. Heraklion is the island’s capital and visitors here can discover much of the island’s history at its museum, which houses findings of the Minoan Civilisation. History is on offer in spades, with sites such as Kommos said to be the place where King Menelaus was shipwrecked on his way home from Troy, as well as a number of Minoan settlements. There are unusual places, such as the Gorge of Havgas, which boasts rare geological features and entrances to caves used by Cretan
There are holiday resorts galore, including Malia, the island’s party destination, not to mention plenty of beaches, such as Preveli Lagoon, where the River Lourtaliotis meets the sea, Matala, which used to be the gathering place for rebels and hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s, and Imeri Gramvousa, famous for its historical Venetian fortress which towers over the beach. It might be worth taking a bucket and spade as legend has it, there is treasure buried here. Elsewhere, there are mountains to discover, along with canyons, caves and forests, gorges, wetlands and the largest natural lake in Crete at Louran, where visitors watch birds from the watch tower. Divers will love the clear waters, where below the surface there are caves, shipwrecks, airplane carcases and sunken cities to discover, not to mention a wealth of marine life. In the mountains you can go skiing and snowboarding, with ski mountaineering, combining trekking with skiing, also growing in popularity. Walking, swimming and watersports are all on offer and youngsters can enjoy the thrills at the many water parks around the island, while the Cretaquarium is one of Europe’s largest aquariums. Food and drink lovers will adore seeking out local produce, such as olive oil, raki, honey, wine and cheese. Open markets are great for this and run regularly. There are also many restaurants, from traditional tavernas to a la carte, serving everything from seafood to snails. In many of the towns, such as Heraklion, Rethymnon, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra and Sitia, there are shops selling designer brands, while chain stores and independent stores are also on offer.
Where to stay Accommodation of all sizes and shapes is available in Crete, from hotels to apartments to villas. One of the most luxurious has to be the Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel, which is introducing new seafront pools this season, including the largest on the island. Owners, the Kokotos family, collaborated with London-based designers WATG on the project. Perched on the water's edge, the hotel is known for having the finest beach area in Crete. The new main pool next to it, features a hydro-massage area, loungers and wide steps for easy access. A new children's pool will be separated from the main one and include shallow and safe waters. The hotel offers a selection of premium accommodation including suites, villas and residences, which come with a private waterfront pool and direct access to the hotel’s private beach. Rooms cost from around £310 for two people per night. The Elounda Peninsula All Suit Hotel in Crete. sL
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Issue 89 - May/June